Dear Web Developer,
Let me start off by saying that I am simply amazed at your skills and abilities. The fact that you can take what appears to be random strings of letters, numbers and other strange keyboard characters and turn them into a great looking website is, quite simply, an amazing feat. I can't do what you do, and I'm glad there are people like you who can.
And that's why I'm writing this letter to you. I need you. As a web marketer, I can't do my job without you. Without you there would be no website to market, and I wouldn't be able to market my client's site effectively without incorporating your skills and expertise. So, thank you for being there for me.
I do need to tell you something, and I hope you understand where I'm coming from. I just want us work together to deliver the best results for our clients. The truth is, I'm frustrated.
Sometimes it seems you know how to do your job, but you don't understand why you're doing it. Sure, someone paid you some money, told you what they want, and you figured out all the cool things the site is going to do. And you might have even talked to the client to get a better understanding of their needs so you can design, develop and program the site to do everything they want. But again, do you know why they want that?
I do. As a web marketer, it's my job to understand and help the client fulfill the "why" part of the website. We don't just want the client to have a solution, we want the solution to help them achieve their goals. And believe me, the goals are not always what the client says they are.
In truth, the client wants to succeed. They want their website to bring in business. Some of the websites you create are designed to do a job, but nobody thought about how that job is best achieved. The site functions "properly" but not necessarily in the best way possible.
See, a great-looking car can be great for transportation, but it does no good if you don't get a driver behind the wheel to use the car for its intended purpose. A car can look sharp on the outside, but what's under the hood and inside the cabin matters just as much. Driver experience is about much more than getting from point A to point B. (Heck, you could do that on a segway.) Design and functionality must come together to make the car marketable.
This is what I would like from the websites you create. Don't just make websites that are pretty and functional; the marketability of the website must be a priority as well.
That means thinking about things that, perhaps, you hadn't given much thought to in the past.
If you would permit me an indulgence, may I make a few suggestions?
- Start with keyword research. Keyword research isn't your job--you're a designer and programmer. No problem. I'm a keyword researcher, so get me (or the SEO of the client's choice) involved in this. I cannot stress how important this is to the process of developing a site correctly. Keywords provide the foundation for understanding what searchers are looking for on Google and Bing. It also then tells us how the site should be built to meet the searcher's needs and expectations.
- Organize the navigational architecture. You're not just developing a home page and an internal page. You're developing an entire marketing vehicle. This means you have to understand how the entire site will come together. The keyword research you did is helpful to ensuring you have a navigation that meets searchers needs and helps them find the information they need quickly. Again, this isn't something you have to do. I'm happy to help, just ask.
- Know what is needed on each page. There is more to the site than content. You really need to understand what goes on every page, or particular pages, before you begin your incredible design work. Sit down with both the client and the SEO to figure out what is required. Navigation? Check. Social symbols? Check. Calls to action? Check. I could go on, but there are hundreds of things that may or may not be necessary in different areas of the site. Jot them all down so you can make sure these make it into your design.
- Develop wire frames. Before you jump into the design, take a step back and wire frame out all the elements. This is critical because I'm sure you'll find that different pages or sections of the site will have different needs. No need to start doing design work before we know everyone is comfortable with the placement of all the elements. Just draw these out in a very simple format. Labeled boxes that show where each element will be placed is simple enough. But include as many boxes as is needed to be sure each page section is included. Also be sure to develop as many wire frames as needed for different pages or sections of the site, such as home page, standard internal pages, about us page, contact us page, blog home, blog posts, etc. Now, with the client's approval of the wire frames you're ready to start designing!
- Produce a gray scale comp. Strange, right? I'm sure you think of this as something that's only needed for brand or logo design, but they can be helpful here, too. I've seen clients throw out an entire design because they thought they didn't like it. It turned out, they just didn't like how the colors worked; the design was fine with a little tweaking. Gray scale comps, based on the previously approved wire frame, allow the client to see if the wire frame layout really works, without the interference that color can sometimes cause. Again, do this for every different type of page to ensure there will be no re-design surprises later.
- Produce a color comp. With an approved gray scale design, you can now colorize the comp. By this time, if there are any objections, you'll know that it's just a color issue, not a layout or design issues. Simply changing the colors around can make a big difference and you can sail through approval, moving on to the coding and development stage. Again, do this for each of the different types of pages that you created wire frames for. Side note: Be sure your comps show how headings (h1-3 at a minimum) will look on the page, as well as visited and non-visited textual hyperlinks, navigational mouse-overs and active pages.
Those last two items don't really have anything to do with SEO, but they are important. I can help you with the wire frame to ensure that everything we're going to need to market the site is in a good place. I don't claim to be a designer by any means, but remember, our goals are the same: to produce a website that lets the client achieve their business goals.
I have a few thoughts for you as well as you move the site from the design stage to the development phase. Unless the site is designed to be marketable, when the client comes to us later, we are very likely going to have to tell them they will need to spend even more money fixing the site they just just paid you to build. In my experience, that doesn't go over very well, but it's impossible for us to do our job otherwise.
But don't worry, I'll give you a few pointers so that doesn't happen. You'll come out looking like a hero, not just when you deliver the site, but a year later when the SEO campaign cost half as much and was twice as effective!
- Pay attention to URLs. You may not know this, and by looking at some of the sites you created you don't, but URLs are very important to SEO and social marketing. URLs with lots of parameters can create a whole host of problems, giving the SEO a whole lot more work to ensure only the right URLs get indexed and the wrong one's don't. That's OK, it's just part of the job, but a lot of this frustration for both the SEO and the client can be eliminated simply by making sure the site is developed using search friendly URLs. Just ask, I'll let you know what they should look like. But please, don't leave it to me. Once a site goes live, changing URLs is a mess. And since I'm not a programmer, I might not be able to do it easily, which means it will cost the client more money to have the old URLs redirected properly. It's better to just do it right from the beginning.
- Use proper Hx hierarchy. Forget everything they taught you in design school about how to code Hx tags into the site. Hx tags are not for segmenting sections of the site, they are for segmenting sections of the content! The logo should not be an h1, navigational elements should not be an h2 and product links should not be an h3. Please get that out of your head. If you absolutely need to use heading tags for the design architecture, then stick to h4-6. Leave h1-3 for content. Oh, and be sure to program the uppermost page heading as the h1!
- Give us editing capabilities. SEO is about making the site more search and user friendly. This means we need to be able to edit things to incorporate keywords and calls to actions. Be sure you program this capability into the site. Don't force product links to be the product name without the ability to customize. And page headings titles, breadcrumbs, ALT tags and navigation links should not pull from the same source. Each of these needs to be independently customizable. If it's content, it needs to be editable from the rest. Make sure that's built in.
- Know what links should and should not be spidered by the search engines. Most links should be spidered by the search engines, but some absolutely should not. It's a bit complicated to know the difference, but let's say that navigation links that go to content and product pages should all be spiderable. Links to your shopping cart and social sites should be unspiderable. The search engines have no interest in adding products to or viewing the shopping cart, nor do they want to socialize my pages. Making these links unspiderable is a big help.
There are probably a few things I left out, but that'll do for now. I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job. In fact, I want what is best for the client.
I'm no more a designer than you are an SEO. We know a bit about each others' jobs, but ultimately we each have our areas of expertise. Let's take advantage of that. After all, we have the same client, and our job is to help them achieve their business goals. It's time we worked on the same team to make sure the client gets everything that they need, not just visually and programmatically, but also with the site's ability to be marketed properly as well.
Thanks for hearing me out. All of this might require some additional work on your part, but we both know it's worth every penny to blow a client away with an exceptional website! Let's work together to make that happen.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.